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October 2012 Retro Gaming Article

October 13, 2012 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Do mass-media journalists really believe gaming consoles are dead or are they ignorant lemmings?

I'm a bit of a news junkie and enjoy a variety of news sources from mainstream mass media and local / indy newspapers to niche outlets that specialize in a particular topic. Each have compelling info from their own unique perspectives. However, I must say I grow weary of hearing mass-media journalists jumping on the idea that slowing sales in console gaming is quickly leading to the end of gaming consoles.

Just today I read an article that stated there is now no need to purchase a Sony PS3 because of the proliferation of mobile gaming! WTF! These alleged journalists seem to think a 4" screen on a smartphone is preferable to a 60" flatscreen TV - and that's before we even look at storage and processing power. These stories are rampant in mass-media, but rarely appear in the niche gaming news arenas - where people really know about things.

HD televisions deliver a better gaming experience than smart phones

Do these journalists think the automobile industry is threatened by the lesser cost-of-ownership of a bicycle? Perhaps the book publishing industry is suffering because Ikea is not producing enough bookshelf units. They seem like lemmings jumping on a popular (if misguided) idea and struggling to make new news of it under their own byline.

There are factors both inside and outside the gaming industry that are causing sales to drop. Everything works in cycles. Popularity waxes and wanes for nearly every product on the market. Game consoles and smart phones are no different.
Palm Pilot

Gaming and smart phone origins

Gaming took off in the late 70s and has gone through a number of iterations (generations) caused by various consumer, economic and technical facets. Combining communication and computing began to emerge around the same time, but the smartphone we all herald today didn't begin to take hold until ~1997 preceded by PDAs (an abysmal concept) a few years earlier.

We've seen gaming evolve over the last 4 decades and gamers have a historical perspective of the causes. By comparison, smart phones have been around less than 2 decades (some would argue that "smart" didn't occur until the iPhone & Android handsets arrived: 2007), yet their sophistication has skyrocketed. As time marches on, we're likely to see innovations hit the marketplace with increasing speed. No wonder people are swarming toward smart phones - they're the new hip gadget. ...which is part of the cycle.

Economic factors

aging game consoles The world is currently in a financial crisis. In the US jobs are scarce, unemployment high and the general feeling of well-being at an all time low. Must-have items have been moved to the "luxury" category and most of us are trying to maintain lower standards with far less financial stability. Probably not the time most of us would be thinking of dropping $250+ on a gaming console. No to mention most new games are priced at $50 - $60.

This combination is going to lead to a slump in sales. Lets also consider the console lifecycle. The big three (Wii, PS3 & Xbox) are about six years old and have not dropped significantly in price. Who wants to pay full price for a 6-year old game console that may become obsolete in a year or so?

Nintendo has a great track record of backward compatibility, but Sony has laid down the law that new consoles will not play a prior system's games. Usually toward the end of a console's lifecycle, prices take a tumble and stimulate new sales as a replacement (bigger & better) comes to market. Not at the moment. The Wii U is the only console with a release date. Still wondering why folks are staving off a $250+ purchase in favor of free games on their phone?

Smart phone allure

  • Car breaks down
  • Late for a meeting
  • On the road traveling
  • Stuck in traffic
  • Always reachable
These are all good reasons to have a cell phone rather than a game console. I love gaming, but playing Call Of Duty won't summon a tow truck. When I leave the house I'm grabbing my keys, wallet and phone - probably leaving the Wii in the living room. Smart phones have taken on a role of a must-have item, for many of us, as the systems and apps have become more integrated into our daily lives.

But have you ever priced a smart phone without a multi-year contract? Go talk to a sales rep. Most of those $99 phones are twice the price of a PS3 if you don't take on a contract with the service provider! Most of the phones on the market are poorly designed and usually have significant "issues" after about 2 years by which time most of their features are outdated or obsolete anyway. Still, a cell phone can be a life saver in emergencies and provide a lot of utility via apps.

Big expensive TVs

Dead Island on an HD TV So, we've gone from big TVs to wide screen TVs to HD TVs and now we're supposed to scrap them for 3D TVs with ill-fitting glasses to make rudimentary elements jut outward in a primitive 3D illusion. Oh yeah, you also need to have apps on your TV too. Why get off your ass to update Facebook when you can do it during a commercial break?

Whatever your reason for buying a big TV, it cost a lot of money. If you're a gamer, isn't this where you want to play games - on the big expensive TV? Angry Birds is fun when you're waiting at the DMV, but if I'm at home I want my Atari cravings satisfied on that big screen, not iOS. I'll play mobile Asteroids while waiting in the dentist's reception area.

Mobile games are fun, but are a very different product than console games. People may favor one over the other for a variety of reasons, but I think most of us would agree that a big screen TV is the best way to play. And what about the folks at Ouya? They're taking the ease and excitement around mobile game development and aiming it back at the living room TV. Yay!

Won't digital delivery be cheaper?

We're starting to hear a lot about digital delivery - doing away with expensive packaging and distribution costs. Game consoles connect easily to home routers and can download gaming content. I'm not sure how long it would take to transfer a 7GB game, but if the cost dropped from $60 to $35, do you really think you're going to get the same game via download?

Removing the retail costs would save manufacturers a lot of money, but not so much that games would actually be affordable. We also need to factor-in corporate greed. You'll download a game at a good price and discover that you can only play one character in four levels. Don't worry - you can buy more characters and levels. In fact, levels and additional characters are cheap - only $2.99 each. That sounds reasonable until you decide you really want all 240 levels and 35 characters. I won't bore you with the math ($822.25 plus tax), but you'll likely spend a lot more than $60 to get what's "in the box" today. That isn't to say $60 is a bargain, but don't think you'll be paying less with a different delivery model.

Journalistic integrity

Back to our mass-media journalists...
Naked News achors So, I hope aspiring journalists will come to recognize that cycles exist everywhere and will always cause sways in the norm whether it's the cost of a video game or popularity of canned vegetables. Cycles move constantly in an ever changing world.

As a news junkie I know the importance of always seeking different sources and weighing what they all have to say. Surprisingly, I haven't delved into the newsworthiness of Naked News, but I am seeing the benefits of reading smaller indy news sites.

An interesting trend - bars opening with arcade themes... and retro arcade cabinets. I'm much more apt to go to a bar in which I can chat up the cute girl racking up a high score on Centipede :)
News is good. Just beware the hype!

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